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Faces Of Diversity Award

Celebrating Diversity & Inclusion

2020 Winners were announced at the Restaurant Industry Awards Gala on March 4 in Washington, DC

Read press announcement here


Now in its 14th year, the Faces of Diversity Award honors individuals from diverse backgrounds who, through hard work and determination, have realized their American Dream. Sponsored by PepsiCo Foodservice, this award celebrates diversity and inclusion and honors individuals who have achieved great success in their lives and in business. The Foundation recognized three winners each year and awards a $2,500 scholarship to ProStart students in the name of each winner.

2020 Awardee Profiles


Farzin Ferdowsi
Owner, MRCO
Brentwood, Tennessee

Farzin Ferdowsi is a native of Iran, and immigrated to the United States in 1965. He worked as a crewmember at Pizza Hut during college. He planned to return to Iran, but the revolution broke out in 1979. The rest of the family was smuggled out of the country, and Farzin became head of the family. He worked his way up at Pizza Hut and opened his first Pizza Hut franchise. He sold the units and started franchising Taco Bell in 1985. He currently owns 58 Taco Bells, 10 YUM! multi-brands, two KFC's, three GiGi’s Cupcakes and other business ventures. He is a board member for the Taco Bell Foundation, Boys and Girls Club and the Community Foundation, among many others.

Photo of Abi-Najm family Lebanese Taverna

Austina Smith
Executive Chef, Grand Living at Bridgewater
Coralville, Iowa

Austina Smith immigrated to the United States to escape a Civil War in Sierra Leone in 1987. Growing up, her grandmother ran a restaurant, but Austina never wanted to be a chef. After spending a year in the Gambia Red Cross refugee program, she came to the U.S. in 1988 and studied accounting. She enrolled in a cake decorating class for fun, and her instructor convinced her to take more classes. She graduated with a degree in restaurant management and worked in several high-profile hospitality ventures. Three years ago, she was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. Her esophagus was removed, and she spent nine months on a feeding tube. She feared she would never cook professionally again, but she restarted her career and is now executive chef at the Grand Living retirement community. She knows the dietary needs of every resident and teaches them cooking classes in her free time.



Photo of Paco Vargas

Fernando Olea
Owner, Sazón
Santa Fe, New Mexico

Fernando Olea is an independent operator in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He came to the U.S. in 1982 and worked in entry-level restaurant jobs. He opened two restaurants in 1991, the same year he became an American citizen. He “retired” in 2015 but missed the industry and opened Sazón in 2017. A former chair of the New Mexico Restaurant Association, Fernando was recognized by Michelle Obama for his Cooking with Kids program and his hard work and dedication to children. He makes it a point to visit schools in predominantly Hispanic communities and talks to the students about the importance of dishwashers and busboys, two of the most essential jobs in any restaurant.


Read About the 2019 Winners

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